Photo by John Ivanko
We like to eat cheese sparingly on our farmstead, but we opt for the good stuff.
Sometimes less of a high-quality thing beats heaps of average. Take cheese, for example. For our farmstead feasts, we’ve learned to focus on using local, high-quality, European-style or artisanal cheeses.
Artisanal cheeses beat the mass-produced (and bland) kind you find in the grocery store in many ways. From flavor to texture, you can find distinctive characteristics in artisanal cheeses, like a streak of blue in blue cheese or a creamy, tart bite in chèvre. They are as varied as the regions or techniques used to make them. Artisanal cheeses are made not only from cow milk, but also from goat, sheep and buffalo milk. (As an aside, cheese made from the milk of goats, buffalo and sheep may be more digestible to someone who’s lactose intolerant and needs to avoid any dairy products made from cow milk.)
Artisan cheesemakers craft their products by hand, often using age-old methods, not machines or robots that churn out the industrial stuff. The process of ripening and aging cheeses results in the distinctive flavors, textures and, yes, aromas that make each one unique.
Bruno, the Swiss cheesemaker who used to run the Alp and Dell Cheese Store in Monroe, Wis., gave us an interesting perspective: Europeans eat 80 percent of their cheese as table cheeses, using only 20 percent in cooking. That means they enjoy a slice of gruyère or a wedge of Swiss, perhaps paired with some bread and tomato slices. In the United States, the opposite statistic holds true: We eat 20 percent of our cheese at the table or as a snack, cooking with 80 percent, mostly mass-produced mozzarella globbed onto a pizza.
There are many ways to classify cheese, including texture, age and fat content. A cheese’s type might best dictate its use in a recipe, whether you’re crumbling a bit on a salad, shredding it into a Swiss fondue, or serving it on atop toasted pita bread with diced tomato and lettuce. Here are some cheeses you might find in your next recipe, beyond melting on pizzas or nachos.
- Soft Cheeses
High-moisture cheeses that tend to melt easily
Examples: Mozzarella, Havarti, Fontina
- Hard Cheeses
Typically aged to create more distinctive flavors or a sharp bite
Examples: Gouda, Swiss, Edam, Cheddar
- Granular Cheeses
Low-moisture cheeses that tend to taste tangy, appear dense and have a granular texture, often just grated as a topping instead of cooked into a dish
Examples: Parmesan, Grand Queso, Parmigiano Reggiano
- Fresh cheeses
Mild, white and sweet cheeses meant to be savored fresh
Examples: Cream cheese, Boursin
Cooking with Cheese
You’ll want to avoid using a granular cheese for a recipe that calls for it to melt. A soft cheese, like Havarti, melts while Parmesan does not. While recipes will often suggest a type of cheese to use, be adventuresome once in awhile. Like using different herbs, a new cheese can turn a great meal into a masterpiece if you combine it with the flavors that you or your family like best.
We use cheese in our meals as a flavor-enhancer and a source for protein, calcium, fat and phosphorus. Consider taking Bruno’s advice when it comes to find the right ratio of cheese to vegetable or meat: Less is better. Just a couple grates of local Emmi Roth Kase Grand Queso, a hard Parmesan-style cheese, for example, can liven up a bowl of pasta with marinara sauce.
When savoring table cheeses, serve them at room temperature for optimal flavor. That’s how we sampled an organic sheep-milk gouda called Lamb Chopper at the Ferry Plaza in San Fran one year. The cheese is sold by Cowgirl Creamery and made in Europe exclusively for Cypress Grove Chevre in Humbolt County, Calif. We cannot bring ourselves to eat this cheese any other way than by a modest slice, perhaps with a piece of sourdough bread.
Our Swiss Pick
We’re indeed fortunate to live near the Swiss-cheese capital of the U.S. Perhaps it comes as no surprise then that Monroe hosts Cheese Days every third weekend in September during even number years. It’s a polka- and yodeling-infused celebration of the area’s rich cheese-making and Swiss heritage, complete with miles of parades and a never-ending line for fried cheese curds. You’ll find us under the big top tent sampling away from area cheesemakers. Among our Green County favorites is Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Bruce Workman’s Sweet Swiss, made from Swiss brown cows raised on pasture and processed at the Edelweiss Dairy Cooperative, owned by the farmers who supply it with milk from their farms. There’s little to no bite for this Swiss, with a creamy texture that reminds us of gouda.
If you ever make it to Cheese Days, look for us in the cheese tent—on Friday, before the crowds arrive.
Savoring the good life,